Creating dog training stations in your home

One of the things I’ve recently learned in my few years of dog ownership is that you are always training your dog — even when you think you aren’t. We train our dogs to do all sorts of things unconsciously. (For example, they keep barking and jumping at the exterior door, because I let them in whenever they do that. Bad human!)

But to help myself train a bit more consciously, I’ve been setting up what I call “training stations” around our house.

I’m sure you’ve been there before: Your dog suddenly behaves exactly the way you want her to, and you have nothing (powerful, e.g., food) to reward her with. Or your dog issues the movement you’ve been trying for weeks to capture, and you don’t have a clicker or a treat anywhere in sight. This seems to happen to me all the time.

Hence, training stations.

Creating training stations | Doggerel

Training station with Honest Kitchen treats, from The House of Two Bows!

These are just little areas of the house where I have learned that I tend to want to work with the dogs, so I outfit those spaces with treats and a clicker and maybe a rewarding toy or two. All of this is put up in a place where the dogs can’t get to it.

In this area, on the console table in our dining room, I’m mostly trying to reward both girls for coming when called. They both have a habit of barking at our neighbors (at wee hours of the morning), which is not desirable. Now that I have this station set up near the door, I can quickly reward them for coming when called — and boy, has it been working! Both Pyrrha and Eden will come almost every time when I call them to come in from the yard. It’s still a work in progress, but having this station near the door has been so helpful.

Creating training stations | Doggerel

I also have a training station in a basket in the basement, where we do more movement-intensive training (like working on our stay, go to mat, or leave it cues). We also do most of our grooming down here, so the basket is filled with treats, toys, clickers, and grooming supplies.

Creating training stations | Doggerel

Training station in the basement, with treats from Ruby at Rubicon Days!

Finally, I also have a tiny training station in the dog room, where they have their crates. Both girls have their “go to your house” command down pretty solid, but we still like to intermittently reinforce this. Because these treats live on the windowsill, the door to their room is often closed if we haven’t put the treats up and out of reach.

Creating training stations | Doggerel

It may seem silly, but having these little stations has certainly improved the likelihood of me training and reinforcing good behavior, as well as just encouraging me to do some training on the fly.

What strategies have you adopted to make training easier in your home?

Our obedience school graduate

(I feel like “obedience school” is kind of a harsh, traditional word for it, but I’m not sure what the appropriate synonym is. Training class? Whatever.)

Our little obedience school graduate. Still acts like a psycho. #germanshepherd #soproudofguion

Little Edie graduated from her basic obedience class last night!

It was fun taking this class with a different dog; we took it with Pyrrha a few weeks after we got her, and the class was a struggle for poor, shy Pyr. We had to spend the whole class behind a door, as she just couldn’t handle the room full of other dogs. Just getting Pyrrha into a calm mindset to actually train was challenge enough; some weeks, she couldn’t get there, and we’d just focus on helping her relax in the classroom.

Eden, however, has been a different story; she’s gregarious, eager to work, and such a quick learner. She may have been the craziest dog in class, but I of course think she was also the smartest. Ha! It helps that she is extremely food motivated, and we always brought her to class without having had dinner. In class, she’s willing to do anything — I’ll do back-flips! Speak Portuguese! Solve a differential equation! — to get that treat.

She’s learned a number of commands in class, but we need to be better about generalizing those behaviors and practicing them at home. Training with a partner makes this easier; I can go work with Pyrrha, and Guion can work with Eden in a different room. Training solo has been a bit harder, because the exiled dog always seems to know what’s up (Someone is getting treats in there, and it’s not me!).

Things we learned in class that I’d like to keep working on:

  • Not jumping on people. She still goes WILD whenever we have guests over, and this has been a hard one to teach. Because even if we instruct people to turn their backs to her and not look at her, they still get mauled. Eden is able to throw out a sit during these greetings, but it’s certainly not her first reaction still. I don’t even need a sit; I’m fine so long as all four paws are on the ground. But we need to take charge of this, because it’s a nuisance.
  • Go to your mat. I think we need another mat in the house, because right now, we’re training this on the same mat, and I know Pyrrha wouldn’t like sharing it with Edie.
  • Stay. She’s definitely figuring this one out, but we need to practice a whole lot more before this is rock-solid.
  • Leave it. Eden has shown incredible self-control with this command in class, but it’s a harder thing to practice at home or on walks, so we need to be more vigilant about that.
  • Bravo! Teaching her to offer a bow. Just a cute trick, and I think she could learn it. Luring is most useful with this command, but I know capturing is preferable, so I need to remember to have treats on hand when they get let out of their crates to do their morning stretches.

Being in a class is always so motivating to me. I wish we had the funds to take them year-round. Eden really thrives in a classroom environment, so I think we’d like to take another class with her. Intermediate obedience or agility could be really fun with her. I don’t think she’ll ever be an agility star (she doesn’t have that border collie quickness), but I think she’d really enjoy it.

Have you taken your dogs to obedience classes? How did they go?

Gradually practicing off-leash behavior

Practicing off-leash recall in the front yard

One of our September training goals is to improve Pyrrha’s off-leash recall ability.

This has been a tricky thing to teach safely. When we first had Pyrrha, we made the mistake once of thinking she was pretty good off leash… and almost lost her in the woods for a heart-stopping 10 minutes. She is very motivated to come to me, but she’s also highly distractible, anxious, and unmotivated to come to anyone who isn’t me. She’ll come to me in the backyard whenever I call her, but there are very few distractions back there.

So. Our solution to training this behavior has been our giant front yard.

Practicing off-leash recall in the front yard

Meandering back to the house; dragging the leash.

Our tiny house is set back quite far from the street, so this has been our practice routine:

Every night, when I go out to get the mail, Pyrrha comes with me and wears the slip lead. I hold it lightly in my hand as we walk to the mailbox, but then, when we turn back to the house, I drop the lead and she gets to wander, untethered, back to the house.

Practicing off-leash recall in the front yard

Sniff where the deer have been.

She’s been doing very well with this routine. As you can see, she is a big sniffer, and her nose tends to be her biggest distraction. I let her check things out for a few minutes, and then I call her to me. She comes to me 95% of the time on the first call.

Clearly, Pyrrha has learned the behavior for this particular routine. She runs straight to the front door, 9 times out of 10. She will occasionally stray to one side of the house, but always comes back to me at first call. I haven’t had to run after her — yet!

Practicing off-leash recall in the front yard

Check the pear tree for squirrels.

Other things I can do to improve:

  1. Have treats with me every time. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. She seems motivated enough to come to me, but I shouldn’t take that for granted, especially if we start to practice this in higher-stress environments.
  2. Practice this with Guion. Again, I’m the only person — probably in the world? — that Pyrrha will come to. I see this as a big behavioral hazard for her. The one time she got out at my parents’ house and was truly lost, this was my greatest concern; I knew she wouldn’t come to anyone else, not even my husband. So it was very lucky that I was the one who found her, but that is not something I can count on.
  3. Think of places where we can practice this behavior with her 30-ft line. There’s a usually vacant soccer field nearby that could work…
Practicing off-leash recall in the front yard

Patrol around the side of the shed.

How did you teach off-leash recall? Any tips for us?

September training and behavior goals

More for my own sake, I’m going to start a short, monthly series here to record my training and behavior goals for Pyrrha. At the end of the month, I’ll make a brief progress report. This is more for keeping myself in line than for anything else, because if you write it on the Internet, then you have a faceless mob to keep you accountable. Right?

Get it, P. #kisses #loveandfear

Kissing Dad!

I don’t consider myself nearly as hardcore as the majority of you, so we’re going to keep our goals simple for now.

September Training and Behavior Goals for Pyrrha

  1. Take a reactivity class at Canine Campus.
  2. Practice behavior modification techniques to reduce on-leash reactivity toward other dogs. Crossing the street, treating for just looking at dogs, and ME taking deep breaths and loosening my body language and grip.
  3. Practice off-leash recall in the front yard. (More on this soon.)
  4. Improve and sharpen the command “Stay.” Get more consistent on this. (Sometimes I use the word “wait,” which is clearly not helpful to anyone.)
  5. Keep practicing calm exits from the crate. Particularly as we are with Draco now, work to mitigate her behavior so that she doesn’t grumble at him when she moves from the crate to the door. She has a habit of basically messing with him when she exits the crate to go to the backyard: growling, jumping in his face. I don’t think it’s aggressive, because she did this with Rainer, too, and he never responded in kind; it’s more an expression of nervous energy or maybe even jealousy? I don’t know. Whatever it is, I need to start training some impulse control and get her to cut it out.
  6. Improve her relationship with Guion. Get advice from Deven (our trainer) about how to accomplish this? I am kind of at a loss. He feeds her, he slips her bacon, he tries not to engage with her at all unless she initiates it… but she is still very fearful of him. After a year. Sigh. It’s kind of disheartening sometimes.

What are some of your goals for your dog this month? And if you have any training tips for me, feel free to dish ‘em out!

How does a dog learn to have great recall?

OK, I have a question for all of you dog training pros out there:

If your dog has great recall, how did you train him/her?

Dublin's intense face

Dublin.

I’ve always thought about this, and one of the most puzzling things to me is that the dog I know with the BEST recall wasn’t that seriously trained (or trained with methods that I disagree with, or have been taught are flat-out wrong).

Dublin is the dog with the most outstanding recall that I know. She lives, as you may remember, next door to my parents and my dad considers her his surrogate dog; he spends a ton of time with her. Dublin will stop on a DIME when you call her name. Dad told me that this past week, she got out of the gate to chase a cat in the neighborhood, but she stopped immediately when he called her — in the middle of a cat chase! And ran right back to him. This astonishes me, and yet I’ve seen her do it. She comes right to you, every single time. Dublin responds to anyone who calls her name, too — even to her family’s little girls.

But this is what bugs me. When I asked my dad why Dublin has such great recall, he always tells me this story: “When Dublin was a puppy, she was about to wander into the street, so I grabbed her and smacked her pretty hard and told her not to do that again. She really learned, though! She’s come perfectly ever since.”

Dublin

All of the reading and training I’ve done tells me that this can’t be true, that dogs don’t learn from physical punishment, that Dublin must be afraid of my father, etc. If you’ve seen them together, however, it is impossible to believe that she comes out of fear. This dog trusts my father utterly; she adores him. In fact, my dad might be the only person that Dublin truly loves; she’s more or less indifferent to everyone else. I’ve honestly never seen any anxiety or fear when she interacts with him. Furthermore, he doesn’t use physical punishments with her on a regular basis. He swears this was the only time he ever smacked her.

Dublin has not really received any formal training; I don’t think she even knows how to go “sit” or “down” on command, but she is an excellent Frisbee player, athlete, and all-around wonderful family dog.

So, what do you think? Why does Dublin have such great recall? Can it really be the smack from my dad when she was a puppy, as he claims?

How did you train YOUR dogs to have great recall?

Best dog training treat bag

I’ve been looking for a handy, non-dorky* treat bag to wear while training Pyrrha and the fosters. (*This may be oxymoronic. Wearing ANY kind of treat-dispensing pouch is probably the pinnacle of dorkiness. But whatever.)

If you’re a lazy trainer like me, you come up with lots of excuses as to why you aren’t training your dog regularly. One of my main excuses is that I hate having greasy, meat-scented pockets and fumbling with a plastic bag of treats doesn’t make for a very fast reward schedule.

Enter the Rapid Rewards Training Pouch, created by Doggone Good.

Rapid Rewards Training Pouch, by Doggone Good.

This thing is like the multi-functional Cadillac of training pouches. Yes. You didn’t even know that was a thing. Well, now it is. Look at all of these features!

Rapid Rewards Training Pouch, by Doggone Good.

Rapid Rewards Training Pouch, by Doggone Good.

Plus, it’s discreet (I bought one in black) and not huge, so you don’t feel like you’re wearing a fanny pack. I bought mine through our trainer, at Canine Campus, and I tend to clip it onto the back of my pants (mine didn’t come with a belt). I LOVE it. I particularly like the feature of the magnet at the top, which holds the top together, so you don’t feel like all of your treats are going to spill when you move.

You can buy the most recent model on the Doggone Good site for $18.99, and there’s also a version on Amazon for $21.50.

Highly recommended. I love this thing.

Do you use a treat pouch or other apparatus for training your dog?

Disclaimer: I was NOT given this product to review; I bought it myself, but I loved it so much that I had to share!

Rainer: Car training update

No photo of this, but I just had to share our exciting progress after my “car training” session with Rainer last night!

This was our first time working with our small hatchback (not the car he had the big, traumatic freakout with). I started treating him for looking at the car, moving toward it on his own volition, and he seemed pretty unconcerned. So I opened the side door.

Um. Guess who just got into the car ON HIS OWN?? Yeah. This dude:

Rainer, post bath

I was astonished. I started throwing treats in his direction, gave him the whole “jackpot” of treats, then I stood back and just let him sniff everything. I didn’t shriek or make any big fuss (even though I wanted to); I quietly praised him and held back. I let him sniff around for as long as he wanted, and then he climbed out after perhaps a minute.

We ended that day’s car session there, because I didn’t want to push him, but I was floored.

All this calm, voluntary behavior from a dog who was in such a state of panic over getting into a car that he was ready to bite anyone who came near him.

Obviously, the difference in the car was probably huge for him. For one, this is a car that he could essentially walk into, instead of climbing up into. And this wasn’t the car that made him get muzzled and picked up and deposited in. He has fought me before on getting into this same car (he did a home visit with me two weekends ago), but there was none of the same fear.

So, we’ll still be doing daily car training, but wow. I was shocked. This little guy has a lot of potential. Like all shy dogs, he’ll still always have more reservations than “normal” dogs, but he shows tremendous potential for progress and confidence-building. Go, Rainer!

Good dog, bad dog

Over the past few days, Rainer has been the GOOD dog, and Pyrrha has been DRIVING ME CRAZY.

Still getting used to each other

Good dog, bad dog.

I don’t know what’s gotten into her lately. I’m guessing that she’s still kind of stressed out that Rainer is still around. She harasses him in the yard (to which he is marvelously and beautifully patient, and never lashes out at her, even though she deserves it); she barks at him when he gets out of his crate; she whines all the time. It’s very frustrating. Poor Rainer takes it all like a champ, too.

I’m not really sure how to manage her behavior, honestly. I let them out in the yard now at separate times, particularly in the morning, when she seems most antsy. I try to remove her from situations that make her nervous, still utilizing the baby gate and preventing her from getting accidentally cornered. (She doesn’t know how to extricate herself from situations with him. He’s not threatening at all, but his mere presence will make her get irritated. See the nose licking calming signal in the photo above.)

Pyrrha didn’t ever act this way with Brando or Laszlo (our former fosters), so I’m not sure why she’s exhibiting this behavior now. Every dog is different. Rainer, for some inexplicable reason, makes her uneasy. (Even though he strikes us as the most chill, laidback guy.) We’ve been doing our best to mitigate her anxiety, but I’m just pointedly frustrated by it. Saying she’s the “bad dog” isn’t exactly fair; she is just KILLING ME with how annoying she’s been!

Meanwhile, we have been doing “car training” with Rainer every day. I’ve been following our trainer’s method of treating him for just looking at the car, coming close to the car, any interaction whatsoever. Then I’ll toss a treat away, in the opposite direction, to keep him from feeling trapped. Tonight I hope to work up to getting him to actually sniff and put his head in the car on his own. Thanks for all of your advice and tips! You’re right about needing to make car trips FUN; all the places we’ve taken him (and will need to keep taking him!) are stressful (e.g., the vet). We need to go get him some drive-thru fried chicken…

But the really exciting news, though, is that Rainer has a family interested in him! Hoping to learn more over the coming days. Will be sure to keep you posted on this sweet dude (and Pyrrha’s never-ending neuroses).

Fearful dogs class, plus training goals for Rainer

Last night, Rainer and I went to a one-time, one-hour class at Canine Campus, called “Rescue Remedies: Fearful Dogs.”

Rainer in training class

Trying to take photos in class never works out so well. This is the best one I got! Those are his ears.

Canine Campus is where Pyrrha went for her obedience class, and I’m a big fan of the trainer, Deven. Deven has had numerous shy dogs herself, and she seems to really understand them.

While Rainer was mostly unable to calm down for the majority of the class (lots of pacing and circling), I was really thankful that we went. Deven reinforced so many concepts that are easy to forget with shy dogs. The class was also really motivating to me to stop being such a passive trainer. Now that Rainer has acclimated to our lifestyle, it’s time to start actively teaching him things. I can’t just wait around and hope that he’ll learn something.

Rainer lounging at home

Safe at home.

This lesson was really reinforced coming and going to the class. The worst part of last night was getting to and leaving class. This is the issue: Rainer has a severe fear of getting in cars. Severe to the point of nearing the biting threshold.

My husband was gone last night, and I was stuck with the Jeep, so getting Rainer into it was quite the ordeal. It took me about 15 minutes. I was plying him with tons of treats, but as soon as he’d get within a foot of the car, he would freak out: jerk back, trying to pull out of the collar, biting the leash, etc. I was finally able to get him in when I put some treats on the car seat, and he got brave enough to put his paws on the seat, and I lifted his back end into the car. Once in the car, he rides OK; he’s so scared of it that he doesn’t move much at all.

The traumatic part of last night was leaving Canine Campus. After class concluded, I asked Deven and her co-trainer Mary to come out to the car with me and help me strategize. Mary started by treating him for nearing the car, and then throwing treats away from the car, giving him the freedom to back up when he wanted. This went on for 10 minutes, however, with Rainer showing little inclination to get any closer to the vehicle.

Instead of diminishing, his fear was only growing, and when we approached him, his entire body tensed up, and I could tell this was a dog who was ready to bite if we tried anything else. Deven clearly recognized this too and came back out with a sheet and a muzzle. I felt so dejected. I hated to traumatize him further, but we were never going to get him in that car.

We put a meatball in the muzzle, and I could snap it on him; this freaked him out. While he was trying to get the muzzle off, we put a sheet beneath his abdomen, and Deven lifted his back end, while I picked up his front end and put him in the car. He was fighting the whole way. The poor guy. My adrenaline was racing, and I felt so upset. And embarrassed. He was so upset.

Upon leaving, Deven reminded me that this is something we would need to work on every day. Rainer’s fear of getting into cars will not go away on its own. Seeing him in such a state of panic last night really brought that home. This is a dog who really doesn’t know anything about the world; everything is frightening and new to him. It’s our job right now to help him take those baby steps toward confidence.

Rainer lounging at home

So, that said, here are some really basic things I want to teach Rainer in the time that we have him:

  1. Car desensitization. Every day, practice working near and in the car. Treat him for approaching; treat him for just looking a it in the early stages. Move up to getting him to enter the car on his own.
  2. Name recognition. Treat him and praise him for giving us any attention when we call his name.
  3. Sitting for food. I know that this dog can sit, but we cannot get him to do it! I keep waiting for him to offer the behavior at meal time (luring him back with the bowl), but he won’t do it. I also wonder if this has something to do with his bad hips. Sitting could be painful for him, so we may need to find an alternate behavior.
  4. Grooming desensitization. Treat and praise for whenever he submits to brushing, touching paws, opening his mouth. Move up to this gradually; brushing is the easiest place to start.
  5. Leash manners. Learning how to walk politely on a leash; getting him not to freak out when we see other dogs (freaking out, for him, means frantic circling; no barking or anything like that, thankfully). Practice safe zone training (LOTS of distance between the stimulant) early on; only take short walks where I can control the environment without pushing him past threshold.

As you can see, we have a lot of work to do. But I believe in him and in his potential to overcome a lot of these fears, with our patient help.

Resources on resource guarding in dogs

After Sunday’s scuffle* between Rainer and Pyrrha over a toy, I’ve been refreshing my memory on resource guarding and associated training tips.

BEHAVIOR UPDATE: As of today, Rainer/Pyrrha relations are going quite smoothly. An interesting observation is that they continue to get along perfectly outside in the yard; they play like they’re best friends (chase, lots of play bows, happy and goofy faces). Indoors, they are still a little nervous with each other, but I think this has to do with the tight quarters.

Gimme dat toy

Georgia and Pyrrha with some of Georgia’s toys.

For those who may find themselves in a similar position with their dog(s), here are some great web resources on this common canine behavior:

There are, of course, many other blog posts and articles written about this behavioral issue, as it is a pretty normal, natural canine quality. But it obviously gets dogs into trouble when they start lashing out at people, children, and their fellow dogs.

I think both Rainer and Pyrrha are at fault here. Rainer takes possession of too many things, but Pyrrha also doesn’t know how or when to back down. Instead of taking a hard stare from Rainer as a cue to get lost, Pyrrha sees it as a challenge. From Pat Miller’s article, this is exactly what’s been happening in our house:

Now We’re in Trouble, Part II: Dog B [Pyrrha] is socially inept – Dog A [Rainer] is chewing on (insert valuable resource). Dog B approaches. Dog A gives “the look.” Dog B is oblivious, and keeps blundering forward, until Dog A feels compelled to escalate the intensity of his message, to aggression if necessary, to get his point across.

This clearly makes for a messy domestic atmosphere! We are taking all of these tips to heart and working on this behavior every day in our house.

Have you had to deal with resource guarding among your dogs? What tips or techniques helped you?

(*Thanks to Carolyn for properly identifying the altercation as a “scuffle” instead of what I initially termed it, a dog fight.)